According to medical historians, there are basically two ways that pandemics end. One is when death rates plummet. The other is when fear about the disease wanes.
This has happened with most pandemics. It even happened with the Bubonic plague.
Bubonic plague has struck three times in the past 2,000 years, killing millions of people and altering the course of history. Each epidemic amplified the fear that came with the next outbreak.
The worst occurrence was the second, which began in 1331 in China. In the years between 1347 and 1351, it killed at least a third of the European population. Half of the population of Siena, Italy, died.
The plague did not end then. But the fear of it died after a few years. After a year or two of widespread fear and even hysteria in parts, denizens of even the hardest hit cities began to grow tired of the constant fear, much like people do in cities besieged by war.
Florence was one of those cities. And according to none other than Giovanni Boccaccio, people grew tired of being frightened – even though the toll of death was much higher than it is now with COVID-19.
“No more respect was accorded to dead people than would nowadays be accorded to dead goats,” he said.
After hiding in their homes for months, many people simply refused to be afraid of the threat. Their way of coping, Boccaccio wrote, was to “drink heavily, enjoy life to the full, go around singing and merrymaking, and gratify all of one’s cravings when the opportunity emerged, and shrug the whole thing off as one enormous joke.”